The Defiance of Conspiracy Theorists

Quick item from Facebook today. From Adam-Troy Castro, a science fiction writer seemingly better known for his Facebook posts than for his fiction. This is about Flat-Earthers, conspiracy theorists, psychology, and the argument from personal incredulity.

I’ll quote the whole post:

Flat-Earthers, a demographic that now includes Roseanne Barr, are so invested in their idiotic theory that they twist their lives into ungainly knots to fight for it.


Because it flatters them to think they’re the only people who see the truth. Because there’s a thrill that goes with being the one standing against a big lie, and they cannot find the big lie, they concoct one. The defiance is what gives them the rush.

There is a guy on YouTube who believes that Australia is not just the “worst country in the world,” as he believed before his mania intensified, but now that the country itself, the continent, is a hoax. To him, it is a fabrication, map and all. He actually went to Australia on a fact-finding mission, was shown all around, and still believes that he was in New Zealand, the perpetrator of the hoax, all along. The more people call him an idiot, the more he doubles down. I have heard that there are other proponents who refuse to believe that China exists and who fight their cause with all the rhetoric in their possession.

This is not stupidity, not exactly. A documentary on Flat-Earthers (OVER THE EDGE, I think), reveals them experimenting to disprove the curvature of the Earth, quite clever tests. Instead, they actually prove the opposite, and go straight to, “we must have done something wrong.” Their belief defines them to the point where they cannot jettison it, and they are deaf to formulations they actually speak, like the flat-Earth theory having proponents all around the world. This is tied, too intimately, to who they are. And when it is tied to politics, like Pizzagate, it is profoundly dangerous.

This is a key point about tribalism and identity, and why psychological factors influence what a person “believes” more than their actual understanding of the issues. This is why I saw: you will never think for yourself, let alone achieve wisdom, from the middle of a crowd, not a political rally, not a church congregation, not a concert audience. You will be drawn along with the crowd, and believe what it believes. Yet — for purposes of survival, it may be just as well. The free-thinking iconoclast is seldom invited to parties.

At the same time, I truly do think that some of the issues, especially the matter of flat-earth believers, comes from a different kind of psychological bias, or limitation: the projection of local circumstances onto all of reality. This is the argument, or bias, from personal incredulity: I can’t imagine scientists could possibly know that the sun is 93 millions miles away, therefore it can’t be true and they just made it up, to trick us. If there world *looks* flat, then surely it is, everywhere. The mind of some people simply cannot extrapolate that the cosmos is mostly different than one’s own local circumstances. The same principle applies to history: since the most ancient recorded history goes back only, say, 6000 years, then what can it possibly mean for the world to be older than that? Since obviously humanity is the most important thing in the universe, surely the universe was created for humanity a mere 6000 years ago, and all that supposed scientific evidence about the universe being older and vaster than intuitive perceptions is just, ya know, made up lies. I’ve seen Facebook quotes (not from any of my friends, but on certain groups) to this effect. “Adventures in Ignorance” one of my FB friends highlights such quotes.

The comments to the post are pretty good, too.

This entry was posted in Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.